The doorbell rings, and your customer runs outside to grab your just-delivered package of your product. But the first thing they’ll see isn’t your product: it’s what your product is packaged in. Plastic? Cardboard? Is that…bubble wrap? 

That’s why sustainable packaging is so important: it’s the first thing that your consumers will see when they receive a product from you.

And as a green business, it’s also your responsibility not just for the production of your product, but that your product gets to your customer in a sustainable manner — after all, it’s part of your identity as a green business. 

In this blog, you’ll learn: 

  1. Why Sustainable Packaging doesn’t just mean “plastic free”
  2. What are current options, and how to use them for your products? 
  3. Why is it important for your business — and the environment?  

What are current sustainable packaging options? 

It may sound intimidating, to make the switch from the ever-familiar option of plastic to something else. There’s also a perceived higher cost associated with sustainable packaging, but that’s not always the case! Let’s break it down (pun intended).

Corrugated Cardboard

Where to buy: Eco Enclose, which is an extremely popular sustainable packaging company, offers each 5″ x 5″ x 5″ box at the price of $0.80. Of course, this price range changes depending on the box dimensions, as well as how many you opt to order. 

The easiest option would be to replace plastic with cardboard.

Fast Facts about Cardboard:
  • Cardboard is more widely recycled material
  • The production of cardboard helps to reduce more than 60% in carbon dioxide emissions as opposed to plastic production. 
  • It can be reused for other purposes, while maintaining its durability. And because of its re-usability, cardboard helps to decrease waste and save energy. 

More recently, a lot of companies have begun to use corrugated cardboard. This means the cardboard has ridges on it, which allows it to protect the product during transportation. You might have seen corrugated cardboard used if you’ve ever bought fragile products, since it’s also tear-resistant. 

Paper

Where to buy: While you can buy them wholesale from businesses like Seedlings, you can also make your own seed paper for no cost! You can find instructions available on our previous blog post.

Fast Facts about Paper:
  • It’s one of the most cost-effective packaging materials
  • Paper is easily sourced, and can be made from a wide variety of recycled materials.
  •  But, paper isn’t as sturdy as cardboard, and so it’s easily torn and damaged if in the presence of sharp items.
  •  Paper also has restrictions as to the weight of the product; too much, and it can tear as well. 

If you include any sort of cards (like instructions or thank you notes), you can also use seed paper. Seed paper is a plantable paper alternative made by mixing seeds and recycled papers. That way, you can continue to integrate sustainability into your business — while allowing your customer to then plant and grow their own flower!

Compostable Packaging

Where to buy: Elevate Packaging offers compostable packaging in the form of bags and pouches, starting at about $10 for storage bags made of cellophane.

Fast Facts about Compostable Packaging
  • Compostable means the material will safely and easily degrade into most soils.
  • This option is typically made from plant-based or fossil fuel materials
  • However, compostable packaging is more controversial, since the assumption is that they can be easily disposed of.

But compostable materials do require certain conditions in order to break down. It’s important, then, to educate your customers if you do choose to use this option. And if you do — make sure the packaging is certified by verified third-party certifiers with proper standards for biodegradability and compostability. 

Sustainable Padding Options

Where to Buy: You can get them at Uline, where a 7 cubic feet bag will cost you $21 (but cheaper if you buy more). 

Another option is a type of paper padding similar to bubble wrap, except these are naturally biodegradable. They look like regular paper with slits, which allows it to create a sort of buffer. Again, Eco Enclose offers these at around $80 for a sheet (14″ x 10″ x 24″). 

A question we’d recently received from a jeweler, Sadiya, asked us about sustainable ways to protect her loose gemstones that she sends around the world. 

And good news: there are lots of options! 

One of these is called compostable packing peanuts. Normally, you’ve probably seen these made from styrofoam. But these are compostable, and they are still fully functional in the same manner (they look a little bit like Cheetos). The way to check that is to take some of the packing peanuts, and place them in water. If you notice that they start to break down immediately, then they’re the kind you want.

Why Sustainable Packaging doesn’t just mean “plastic free”

The term “sustainable packaging” is far too often just thrown around, to encompass things that aren’t necessarily plastic packaging. But let’s start by clearly defining exactly what we mean in this blog when you see the word “sustainable packaging.”

Sustainable packaging actually has a number of different criteria, as outlined by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC). 

So let’s break that down into a checklist you can use to ensure you’re meeting the SPC’s criteria:
  • Your packaging material is sourced from places that have human rights and planet-friendly practices in place

One of the most common packaging standards is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified packaging which guarantees the above

  • Your packaging meets market criteria for cost and effectiveness — meaning it achieves the goal of spurring economic growth by ensuring it is accessible and quality enough for a profitable business
  • Packaging is sourced, manufactured, and transported using renewable energy
  • Optimizes the use of renewable or recyclable materials
  • You make sure and think about and educate of how to dispose of said packaging in a sustainable way

Read more about these points here.

Busting one of the biggest myths in sustainable packaging: “Biodegradable Plastic”

While all these options can work for a variety of purposes, I want to end on something that may sound eco-friendly, but actually aren’t really. 

“Biodegradable plastic” is the name of this material. And at first look, it does sound like it’s good for the environment. After all, most are made from plants. But be sure to do careful research if you do opt for biodegradable plastics. 

A huge pitfall is that these biodegradable plastics aren’t really biodegradable — they just break down into smaller pieces of plastic. So while you can’t see it, it’s still there, and just as dangerous.

Sustainable Packaging is one of the best ways to stand out as a brand

An Accenture study interviewed over 6,000 consumers about the products that they bought, as well as the materials those products were packaged in. Of that number, over 80% of consumers said they felt it was “important or extremely important” that companies design their products to be more environmentally friendly.

Not only that — as much as your business is about your product, it’s also about your packaging of your product. That’s why when businesses discuss their carbon footprint (your measurable impact on the environment) — and how to reduce it — the conversation always circles back to what the packaging is. 

After all, almost 80.1 million tons of solid waste generated in 2017 can be attributed to just containers and packaging, according to the EPA. And of that, only 50.1 percent of all containers and packaging are even recycled.

So when you make the switch to sustainable packaging, that’s immediately a point that your consumers — especially green consumers — will notice. In fact, 62% of consumers are more likely to purchase from brands using sustainable packaging, according to Dotcom Distribution’s survey of more than 1,200 consumers. 

This will give you the advantage to help you really differentiate your brand from mass retailers and other businesses. 

All in all, whatever options work best for you will be up to you and the product you sell, but hopefully this blog has provided you with the necessary foundation you need to continue your own research to figure what’s best for you!

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